Twelve years ago this month I was diagnosed with Anorexia.
This week is the annual National Eating Disorder Awareness Week and here’s what I want to say…
Some mental illnesses can be attributed entirely to brain chemistry, but not eating disorders.
Eating disorders have a strong cultural component and our current culture is one that fosters them. You can be a part of the change.
Currently, in the United States, at least 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder. You can play a pivotal part in reducing these numbers. Here are ten ways to get you started.
: Stop consuming the toxic parts of this culture. This means unsubscribe from magazines that celebrate weight-loss. Boycott shows like The Biggest Loser.
: Make a point to celebrate the beauty and brilliance that exists inside and out in every human.
: Move your body because it feels good, not because it needs to be shrunken or punished.
: Eat with pleasure, gusto, presence and in collaboration with the wisdom of your body.
: Notice what example you are setting for younger people in your life about how they should feel about their bodies and about food. Are you encouraging love and ease or fear and angst?
: If you struggle with disordered eating, don’t blame yourself. Look at the f*cked up culture you’re living in and know that a path of healing is available to you.
: Ditch the scale. Seriously. Throw it out or give it to charity. It’s a useless and often harmful tool.
: Surround yourself with body positive people, even if that means seeking out online organizations and groups. The world is increasingly full of loving, awakened, accepting, fierce people taking a stand against our pro-thinness culture.
: Practice self-compassion. If nothing else, this is the most powerful pebble that can ripple out. A world full of people who are kind and peaceful within is a world that is peaceful and kind.
Purely because I enjoy reading posts like this and because I like makeup I’m sharing with you what’s in my bag. I like to keep my possessions fairly paired down to the essentials so this is pretty much the extent of what I use, both for everyday and special occasion. Not pictured: moisturizer, hair elastics, bobby pins, cuticle trimmer, and nail clippers. That’s it. Enjoy!
Stila Eye Shadow in Indigo (use as eye liner)
Generic angled eye shadow brush
Generic eye lash curler
You might think I regret my eating disorder. You might think I look back in shame at all the seemingly wasted energy I spent obsessing about the number on the scale or the food on my plate.
But I don’t have shame.
Instead I have compassion and a deep awareness that at that time I was taking care of myself the very best way that I knew how.
At the time I was in pain and I was anxious, both of which lessened when I focused intensely on food and my body.
I actually think 20-year-old me was pretty resourceful.
Yes, she was also miserable, ill, and hungry. But she was, nevertheless, resourceful, using her limited toolbox as best she could.
As the old adage goes: when you know better, you do better.
I frequently encounter women who feel such self-loathing for all the years spent riding the dieting pendulum, abusing alcohol, or over-spending.
However you cope, it is or was most certainly you taking care of yourself the best way you know or knew how.
I believe that when you know a better way you do it.
Regardless, whatever your salve, self-care is often mislabeled as self-harm and I want to change that.
Let’s forgive ourselves for the hurt our efforts to help ourselves caused.
Let’s celebrate that when we’re hurting our natural tendency is to take care of ourselves by any means necessary. (Look in the mirror, you will see someone who has, all along, been on your team).
And finally, once we’ve forgiven and seen the goodness of our true nature, we can move towards the discovery of effective, less-harmful self-care methods.
If it’s time for you to make your toolbox more robust…
If you’re ready for the resilient life that comes after you forgive yourself…
If you understand that being a sensitive soul comes with a different life-playbook…
If stepping fully into the roles of advocate, soft-place-to-fall, ally, lover, champion, and oxygen-giver for yourself is what you’re called to do…
I invite you to Feast.
Connection is hard enough without the ‘no fly zone’ of food and body preoccupation between us.
Here’s the rub: we need connection with each other like we need air and yet nothing scares us more than connection, than being seen, than being so vulnerable we could be rejected.
We need connection and yet we live during a technologically-centric era of human civilization where real connection is often traded for isolated screen-time and high-light reels.
We need connection but judge ourselves so harshly we don’t give others a chance to see, like, or love us.
And with connection so essential and already so challenging, what we don’t need is the added barrier of body shame and food obsession.
I thought this the other night as my partner’s hand traversed the curve and softness of my belly and I could actually feel all that didn’t stand between us — and all that could — and all that does.
Because connection is hard and it’s everything.
I thought of this because I know what life feels like when we don’t love, or even like ourselves. I know what life looks like when we’re hungry, empty longing for a crumb of connection.
I know what life looked like before and I know — hallelujah — what life looks like on the other side. I know just how unnecessary the wall is that our loathing, shame, preoccupation, and obsessions build. I know how easy it is to think that we’re the weird one, that we’re the exception to the rule, and that everyone else but us is deserving.
At another time in my life when a partner lovingly touched my body though we were in the same room, in the same bed there were miles and miles between us.
Tear the wall down. Even if it’s grain of sand by grain of sand.
Behave kindly toward yourself. Don’t proclaim to do this. Bring it to life in small tender moments.
Practice inhabiting your own skin. Don’t proclaim to do this either. Rather, right now, feel your skin touch the air and your thighs touch your seat.
Most of all feed yourself so the gnaw of hunger quiets and you can make the connections that are what you’ve been hungry for all along.
In a trance-like state I went to the refrigerator and quickly took out one raw ravioli and ate it. Then I walked away, shame-filled, only to be back for another less than a minute later. I did this until every one of them was eaten.
That’s how I spent one Thanksgiving some years ago.
That year I wasn’t making the trek to be with family and no local invitations had materialized.
While I was lonely and sad to be spending the day solo, I had intended to make a special meal of fresh butternut squash ravioli with browned butter.
The meal never came to be because leading up to it I was overtaken with shame about my out of control relationship with food, guilt for planning a “carb and fat-laden” meal, and intense feelings of sadness I didn’t know how to experience.
So I mindlessly ate cold raw ravioli until they were gone and my belly ached and I crawled into bed to watch something on television that would take me as far away from my reality as possible.
When I think about what’s changed in my life that makes that night feel like such a distant memory and such an impossibility today it boils down to peace.
And peace isn’t something I declared in one broad sweeping moment from which I never looked back.
Peace was something I had to declare moment by moment. Urge by urge. Frightful thought to frightful thought. Peace became my practice and like any practice there was no expectation that I perform flawlessly right out of the gate.
To this day calling for a truce is one of my favorite disarmament tools.
Here’s how it might go:
Recognize that you’re in opposition, afraid, or feeling threatened. You might be feeling opposed to your feelings, to your thighs, to your dinner plate, or to your scale. Make a point to learn the symptoms of being at war. Notice what it feels like so you can recognize it better next time.
Name your experience. “I’m feeling at war” or “I’m feeling like I’m on the opposing team playing against ______.”
Breathe. Feel the sensation of your breath entering and exiting your lungs.
Pause. Even if for one minute, decide to stay put with your experience. Don’t get up. Don’t distract yourself. Stay. If you can only do ten seconds, then start with ten seconds.
Inquire. Be curious. Ask with sincerity:
Sweetheart, how are you? What’s hurting?
How does the tug-of-war feel?
What are you resisting?
Where did you learn that [what you’re fighting] is something to fear/resist?
What would/could it look like to call a truce?
What if you’re actually on the same team at what you’re fighting?
What if, just in this moment right now, you put down the weapon and proceed from here gently, holding your own hand?
Can you, just for now, choose peace over everything else?
Another helpful addition to this practice, one that came in handy in interrupting my lightening fast dash to the kitchen, was designating a special chair as a my remembering chair. In my living room I have a big, oatmeal-colored linen wingback chair that I love and I used it as a sacred place to pause and remember myself. Many times I would only pause there for a moment before I would get pulled gravitationally toward food, but over time those moments got longer, the choices more plentiful, and my own ceasefire grew deeper roots.
I don’t know if I’d have been able to stop myself from eating all the ravioli in their cold, raw state had I asked these questions or sat in that chair. I don’t know if I would have made it to the table with a hot, lovingly prepared meal that night had I just hit the pause button.
I do know however that I practiced this for years after that Thanksgiving and over time it worked. It allowed me to slow things down enough to have a choice in what was happening. This practice allowed me to slow myself down enough to see that what I thought was the enemy (myself, my body, food) was actually an ally. This practice allowed me to see that there was nothing to fear in the present reality of my experience.
Pausing for peace is a favorite practice and when paired with self-compassion I’ve seen it move mountains.
Somewhere between a recipe, a step-by-step plan, and a map here are 10 ingredients I believe add up to making peace with food:
Learn to manage anxiety and feel feelings
I believe that most chaotic, restrictive, or overconsumptive eating is driven by anxiety. Manage the anxiety and you’re a giant step closer to finding ease at the table. Whether through pharmaceuticals, meditation, or therapy, anxiety management is key in walking this path.
Stop blaming yourself and embrace your humanness
As a human being you are wired to respond to threats of famine (real or perceived) with a compulsion to overeat. You can’t override your wiring. Diets are inherently designed to set you to feel a threat of famine and thus set up to fail. You do not need more willpower. You need to ditch a system that is structured to cause you suffering and will always fail to deliver on it’s promises in the long run. Not your fault. Never has been. Never will be.
Learn the science of Health at Every Size
We take for granted the notion that fat people are inherently unhealthy because of their size. This belief is so common it’s not ever questioned—even though science does not back it up. Once we bust through this myth we take away an important part of the ammunition for restrictive eating.
Find a body role-model
Just because mainstream media presents a homogenous and often unreal ideal of the human body does not mean we can’t expand our own view. The world is full of a kaleidoscope of people who are beautiful, healthy, and loved. It is not, nor has it ever been, true that you have to look a certain way to be these things. Look beyond the magazines and find people who can serve as role models (or proof) of what is possible. Start a pinterest board. Embrace that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. Celebrate what makes you unique.
Commit to giving up dieting
To make peace with food you must first commit fiercely to giving up dieting. Peace with food isn’t something we find when part of us is still plotting and pining for a new eating plan or program. Say goodbye to this toxic relationship that never treated you with respect or kindness.
Trade the scale for body-trust
Stop weighing yourself. Dump the scale in the trash, literally. Peace with food depends on letting your body determine the best weight range based on your new, peaceful behaviors with food. When “control weight” isn’t on your to-do list anymore, peace with food is exponentially easier to find.
Play the long-game
Peace with food isn’t something you find overnight or even in a year. It’s a slow-process of reconditioning. If you’ve been indoctrinated from birth with the hungry woman paradigm and dieted for decades, you can’t expect to find peace instantly. But play the long-game compassionate and you’ll get there.
Treat it like learning a new language or instrument: practice
Finding peace with food is anything by a linear path. You will practice, play a wrong note, practice more, fall down, practice more, get better at it, practice more, get lost less frequently, practice more, and so on. This is about hitting the reset button over and over and over again, without judgement, as you imperfectly find your way.
Understand what it means to be a ‘normal’ eater and pursue that
While dieting or bingeing are typical or average eating behaviors in today’s world, they aren’t normal. Normal eating, as well defined by Dr. Ellyn Satter is: “
Normal eating is going to the table hungry and eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it -not just stop eating because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to give some thought to your food selection so you get nutritious food, but not being so wary and restrictive that you miss out on enjoyable food. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is mostly three meals a day, or four or five, or it can be choosing to munch along the way. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful. Normal eating is overeating at times, feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. And it can be undereating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life. In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your hunger, your schedule, your proximity to food and your feelings.
Find a mentor and community to join you in the trenches
When the dominant paradigm is one of disorder and/or many of your friends are still pursuing diets and weight-loss it’s essential that you have a support system. Integrating an entirely new way of relating to food, your body and self is no small order and a mentor can be a priceless anchor. Whether a coach or therapist find someone who knows the lay of the land and can provide you with essential tools and encouragement.
One of my obsessions is how women relate to themselves.
I’m so focused on this because I believe it to be the switch that, when flipped, sets everything good in motion. Like, I believe wars could be stopped by people shifting their relationship to themselves. Whoa.
I was talking with talking with my colleagues Dana and Hilary of Be Nourished this week (psst: our full conversation will be available for Feast participants). Their offices are right next to each other and Hilary was saying that every time one of Dana’s clients is leaving a session she can hear Dana say “Kindness is the way out.”
I couldn’t agree more.
You want to heal your relationship with food?
You have to start with kindness.
You want to heal your relationship to money?
You have to start with self-compassion.
You want to heal your relationship to your sex or intimacy?
You have to start with turning sweetly toward yourself.
You want to know if you’re lovable?
You have to love yourself.
You want to end the war you are waging with your body?
The ceasefire you are seeking is with yourself.
If you want to heal your relationship with any part of life, you must first practice being kind to yourself. Emphasis on the word ‘practice’.
Our relationship to ourselves must be brought to life. Self-compassion and self-love are, above all else, verbs. Before we can address whatever unrest, misalignment, or longing that has shown up in our life, we must first bring to life a compassionate and loving relationship with ourselves.
Women come to me with threadbare spirits, exhausted from years of anxious searching for peace with food, their body, and their lives. In our work together we so rarely, if ever, begin by addressing what they would define as ‘the problem’.
No, instead we begin with their heart.
A woman who has an adversarial relationship with herself, or no conscious relationship at all, will ask me “Beyond saying nice things, which can feel, what does it even look like to be kind to myself? Where do I start?”
They think I’m going to give them a homework assignment (which I might). They think I’ll give them a book to read or some activity to do after our session (which I might). They think that they might be able to think their way into this one (which they can’t).
I say: “You start right here.”
And we do.
I guide them towards themselves in the very moment we are in. I guide them to soften. I guide them to expand their capacity for their own experience. I guide them to welcome all of themselves to the embrace, not just what’s pretty or palatable. I guide them to set down judgement and to listen for and offer whatever their spirit and heart are aching for.
Here’s the key: we do it right here and now.
Want to give it a go?
Place your one hand on your heart and the other on your belly.
Take a breath.
Ask: “Darling, what haven’t I made enough space for? What part of our or your experience do you need me to allow to just be?”
Ask “Sweetheart, what do you need to hear from me? How do you need me to gaze back to you in the mirror?”
Ask: “My love, I want you to feel seen and embraced, with that in mind, what can I offer you ?”
Ask: “Cookie, where can the warmth and light of my love melt away any shame or fear you might be feeling?”
Feel your hand over your beating heart.
Feel the warmth of your skin.
Feel your place in family of humans, all trying to do their best to find safety, love, belonging, relief, and peace.
In every moment, especially this one, we can practice standing in kind relationship to ourselves. Emphasis on the word ‘practice’.
I want to share with you some thoughts I’ve been having lately about the waning paradigm of the hungry woman, about the difference between hungry women and Well-fed Woman, and about why I created Feast.
It’s not often I do a video blog, but try as I might to channel these thoughts through my keyboard this week I could not.
Before you watch, there are some unnecessary qualifiers I feel compelled to make:
Like the video might be a bit rambly, I’m not always sure I’m making sense, and I certainly didn’t remember to say everything I wanted to say. Perhaps it’s the vulnerability of it that makes video my rarely used medium. Regardless here’s a good bit of what wanted to be offered to you with a whole lot of heart.
If you follow my work you know that I’m huge fan of the pioneering researcher Dr. Linda Bacon . Her findings are integral to the work of the Health at Every Size community. This year she came out with her second book, a collaboration with Dr. Lucy Aphramor, entitled: Body Respect: What Conventional Health Books Get Wrong, Leave Out, and Just Plain Fail to Understand about Weight.
When I heard this book was coming out I was quick to preorder and devour it. When the publisher asked if I wanted a copy I said, “Thank you, I already one and I love it, but if you want to send one over for one of my readers please do!”
I decided I wanted to give the book out to a newsletter subscriber who sent in their own definition of a Well-fed Woman. I received dozens of submissions and I decided I’d pick at random, not wanting to play favorites. Winner aside, I had to share a some of these beautiful interpretations with you…
“A Well-Fed Woman: A woman who unapologetically claims her brilliance, bravely opens and shares her most vulnerable moments, is willing to lick her fingers of pleasure, wears an apron with gratitude for her divine imperfection, and knows that self-worth is an essential ingredient in life.” tweet
“To me, a well-fed woman is one who feeds herself on the levels of body, mind, heart and soul. She doesn’t deny herself pleasure, and she nourishes herself with food, people, and experiences that makes her feel alive!” tweet
“My definition of a well-fed woman: one who loves herself fully, even if others taught her not to, and tries to listen to the subtle messages from her body and soul in order to live fully with delicious desires and an intent to fulfill them.” tweet
“A well fed woman is a woman whose body vibrates with love and passion for herself, her family, and her community. She is well fed in the sense that she takes the time to honor herself with food and patience (or is working on it everyday). She is well fed in the sense that when the inevitable struggles of daily life create a deficit in joy, she can count on a warm reception from herself and those who love her to fill in that space with extra care, even if it is hard sometimes. A well fed woman is delighted to see the ancestry and genetic gifts and treasures given to her from a long line of women before her….the soft, the hard, the plump, the flat, the everything in between. A well fed women connects with her source of the divine and is full.” tweet
“A well-fed woman tends her own garden, knows when her well is drying out, and knows which gardener down the street might have some water to lend.” tweet
“A well-fed woman is an empowered woman, immersed in self-care and receptive to nourishment from others and the world.” tweet
“A well fed woman responds to her bodies cues with compassion, like tending to a child with leadership and love.” tweet
How would you define a Well-fed Woman?
Being in control feels awesome.
Determining the outcome of things because we’re in control, double awesome.
When we feel in control, our nervous system is as calm as if we were a baby snuggled in our mother’s arms. Control feels safe and safe is where it’s at for many of us.
Unfortunately our sense of control, especially as it pertains to outcomes, is most often an illusion.
I know a thing or two about pursuing control. I spent a good chunk of my life white knuckling the steering wheel. I was in hot (and often rigid) pursuit of controlling my weight, other’s perceptions of me, and how successful I was at whatever endeavor I’d embarked on.
Perhaps you can relate.
Sadly, the tight grip I tried to have on everything–and everyone–didn’t produce the results I’d hoped.
My weight yo-yo’ed, people judged me, boyfriends left me, employers fired me. Try as I might, seeking to control the end game never seemed to work out for me.
These days I have a radically different approach.
I make choices about how I show up and what my boundaries are, releasing all outcome, as much as possible.
Success today is defined as whether or not I did my part, not whether a certain result came to be.
In my very real, and very imperfect life this looks like…
Practicing eating intuitively and releasing any control of my body’s weight.
Committing to showing up with my clients with presence, curiosity, and love. Releasing whether or not they’ll get anything out of working with me.
When I was single, this looked liked choosing how I wanted to show up on dates and releasing whether it went anywhere. Whether the outcome was rejection or a second date, success’ hat was hung on how I chose to show up.
In a relationship, this looks like a personal requirement that my partner and I do work with a couples therapist long before there are any major issues and releasing whether or not we’ll be together in 60 years. It looks like telling the truth, even if it’s not what he wants to hear because I want whatever outcome is the result of the truth.
This practice is entirely about having awareness and commitment of how we want to be in our lives.
I want to be honest. I want to be present. I want to be relaxed. I want to be compassionate. I want to allowed to be human. I want to be creative.
And I can play a part in all these things. I can play a major part in how I’m showing up.
I can’t however, determine or predict what will happen tomorrow around the bend. I don’t know how others will receive me or my work. There is so much I don’t know, and accepting that–living without attempting to be psychic–is freedom.
The impact of my being is not in my control and to chase it would be fruitless and exhausting. Of course, I only know this from the painful years I clung to controlling outcomes.
Something unseen in all this is the belief that I’m enough.
If I didn’t believe that I was enough I would still be chasing that through all the same old dead-end alley ways.
In my coaching practice I see this showing up when a client is utterly terrified of dating (while hungering for partnership). Terrified she’s being awkward or that she’ll be rejected. Terrified. The solution isn’t to avoid dating. The solution is to figure out what she can control and make that the definition of success.
This same phenomenon shows up when clients have career or creative hungers that paralyze them with fear. This is a sign that success (and safety) is defined as a certain outcome rather than simply the act of going for it with heart.
So I propose this:
If you’re exhausted from trying to control your weight, stop. Try instead to eat in a way that feels good, tastes good, and honors your body. If you can do that (and you can), what your body weighs will matter a whole lot less.
If there’s a creative project you’re pregnant with or a career move calling to you, play with defining success as trying something new, or as Brene Brown says, as getting into the arena.
Today, success for me is hitting publish on this post. It’s far from perfect. It might not even be useful to some people stopping by. But it’s honest and communicates something that has been liberating for me. And thankfully, my sense of my own enoughness doesn’t rest on these 700 words. And that feels way more awesome than being in control.